Saibaba, Maruti Suzuki and Aseemanand rulings: Burden of ‘development’ and Hindutva


Judiciary leans to favour a corporate development narrative; NIA remains soft on Hindutva terror.

“Saibaba ko phaasi do” was the slogan that greeted members of human rights organisations from across India assembled at Nagpur on April 8, 2017, for a meeting on “Repression on Social Movements and the Judiciary”. It was a demonstration outside the meeting venue by a clutch of self-styled anti-Naxalite organisations, led by the recently formed Bhumkaal Sanghatan.

‘Mastermind’ Saibaba

The demand of death sentence was for 90 per cent disabled Delhi University professor Dr GN Saibaba who, along with four others, had just a month earlier been sentenced to life imprisonment by the Court of Sessions of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, for membership and support of the Maoist party.

The demonstrators told the press that their demand was justified, as Saibaba was the “mastermind” of Naxalite violence.

It may seem ridiculous that anyone could think it possible that somebody who is wheel-chair bound, with full-time teaching responsibilities at Delhi, over a 1,000km away, could be the mastermind of the Naxalite movement in central India. But think again before writing this off as the fevered rants of fringe elements.

In fact, these demonstrators were only echoing the outpourings of the ANO (anti-Naxalite operations) police cell. It is the ANO that had, through a press statement within a week of the Saibaba judgment, indirectly criticised the Supreme Court for ordering the release of Saibaba, by claiming that he was the mastermind of 72 violent offences that had been registered while he was out on bail.

This mastermind storyline was widely publicised in the media. Saibaba was in hospital for most of his bail period, but no one asked the ANO how he could direct violent operations over such a distance from his hospital bed. More importantly, no one thought fit to question the police why none of the 72 FIRs registered had even named this so-called mastermind.

justice_041017051839.jpg

A fraudulent development narrative

This casual distortion of logic and truth has been a hallmark of much of what such agencies have spouted in recent years. Such stories aim at shoring up a fraudulent narrative that development – a nasty euphemism for big industry projects that displace and destroy local lives – is being held up by violent resistance devised and even directed by “white collar Naxalites” in far-off metros.

Organisations that are closely linked to security agencies would naturally be expected to remain faithful to this official “development” theme. Journalists are supposed to be more discerning, however, but even that is too much to ask of large sections of today’s mainstream media.

The problem however acquires disquieting dimensions when trial court judges start buying deep into this narrative. This can be seen in the judgment of Judge Shinde, the principal district and sessions judge of the Gadchiroli court.

The judgment seems to be gripped with a desire to see a particular type of “development” in Gadchiroli. Opposition to an iron and steel project at Surjagad is considered proof of being anti-development, and possession of a pamphlet against it is considering incriminating. Such is the judge’s fascination with this project that Surjagad is mentioned no less than 11 times in the judgment.

This despite the project itself being of dubious legality. Seventy gram sabhas in the area have voted against the project and without their approval, the project itself is rendered illegal as per the provisions of PESA (Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act).

Life sentence not sufficient

This however does not stop the judge from giving his understanding of development (or lack of it) a central place in his judgment. Even at the stage of pronouncing punishment, he says, at Para 1013 “…the situation of Gadchiroli district from 1982 till today is in a paralysed condition and no industrial and other developments are taking place because of fear of Naxalite and their violent activities. Hence, in my opinion, the imprisonment for life is also not a sufficient punishment to the accused (emphasis added by us) but the hands of the court are closed (sic)…”

He is so enthralled by the development narrative that he feels that the only appropriate punishment for those standing in its way is a death sentence – the only sentence harsher than life imprisonment. Since there is nothing in the charges, chargesheet or judgment that even alleges (leave aside proves) that any of the accused have engaged in violent activities, it seems that even non-violent opposition to big project “development” is a capital crime.

This bias is amply evident throughout the judgment. It ensured an undeserved conviction and an unjust sentence.

Maruti Suzuki: where unionisation becomes a criminal act

Another case decided around the same time was the Maruti Workers Union judgment decided by the Gurgaon (Gurugram) Sessions Court, Haryana. The case was vastly different and the socio-economic conditions of the two places too are vastly different – Gadchiroli is a forested, unindustrialised district, while Gurgaon is one of the most modern enclaves of the country.

However, here too the same development narrative, albeit another version, was being played out before the courts during the course of the trial.

In this case, an astonishing 148 workers had been implicated in the death of a manager who had been burnt in an unexplained fire during a protest at the Maruti Suzuki plant at Manesar, Gurgaon, in July 2012. They had all been kept in prison for long periods, many throughout the trial, which lasted four years and eight months.

Finally, 13 workers got a life sentence, 18 got imprisonment for various terms and 117 were acquitted. The workers’ actual crime was that they had formed a union of their choice and had demanded the regularisation of the contract workers in the plant.

This “crime” of fighting for their rights resulted in them being denied bail for years despite none having any previous criminal record and there being no substantial reason for keeping them behind bars. Courts at various levels who refused bail seemed to be bending backwards to satisfy big Indian and foreign corporates who wanted to crush the labour movement.

Clearing the way for foreign investors

The development narrative here was one of attracting foreign investment. It was voiced most articulately by Justice Puri of the Punjab and Haryana High Court who, while rejecting bail observed: “The incident is a most unfortunate occurrence which has lowered the reputation of India in the estimation of the world. Foreign investors are not likely to invest money in India out of fear of labour unrest.”

He thus apparently felt that it was the duty of the court to teach the workers a lesson and satisfy foreign investors so that they would be attracted to put their money in India.

Even at the time of sentencing of the workers, the special prosecutor demanded a death sentence by invoking these same words of the high court. He too, like the Gadchiroli sessions court, felt that standing in the way of “development”, here foreign investment, deserved death by hanging. Fortunately, here the court did not accede to this demand.

Nevertheless, the earnestness of the government to somehow bolster their “development” narrative by obtaining a conviction and stiff sentence was a constant pressure on the court throughout the trial. A special public prosecutor was specially appointed for this case who was assisted by a battery of lawyers, including a designated senior counsel.

The case was based on the false evidence of labour contractors, who were interested parties, interested in preserving the contract system that the union sought to abolish. The investigating police officers were in constant attendance to ensure that the witnesses were tutored to parrot before the court the stories that had been cooked up.

NIA shields Aseemanand

Contrast this with the approach of the investigating authorities in the Ajmer bomb blast case that was decided in the same week as the above two cases. Here, the prime investigating agency of the country, the National Investigating Agency (NIA), had worked to ensure that the acquittal of the prime accused and former RSS member Swami Aseemanand was a foregone conclusion.

The Swami had voluntarily confessed before magistrates to being behind a number of bomb blasts throughout the country, but the NIA did not make use of this confession at the trial stage.

The prosecutor, Ashwini Sharma, complained that the IO [investigating officer] did not come once for the hearing, even when he was called and said the witnesses are turning hostile. This attitude of the NIA seems to be their policy in bomb blast cases involving Hindutva accused, as can be seen in the disclosures in 2015 by Rohini Salian, prosecutor in the Malegaon bomb blasts case, that she had been told by the NIA to go soft on the accused.

Now the Hyderabad NIA officers who wanted to appeal against grant of bail to Aseemanand have been refused permission by their top brass in Delhi.

Thanks to the NIA, Swami Aseemanand, a self-confessed bomb blast mastermind, now roams free. Other Hindutva-inspired terror accused like Sadhvi Pragya Thakur are soon expected to follow suit.

Unlike Prof Saibaba, who opposed the displacement of the poor by big projects and the Maruti trade unionists, who stood against the contract system that foreign investors love, their terror acts pose no threat to the dominant “development” narrative of the ruling classes.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/saibaba-aseemanand-maruti-suzuki-judiciary-hindutva-terror/story/1/16614.html

Advertisements

How Unlawful Activities Prevention Act has eaten up fundamental rights and freedoms


The repeal of POTA was indeed an eye-wash.

Soon after its adoption, the Constitution of India was amended in 1951. At the time, several progressive judgments (Romesh Thapar versus the State of Madras, 1950; VG Row versus the State of Madras, 1950; and the AK Gopalan case, 1950) by the judiciary held that laws which curb fundamental rights are essentially unconstitutional and fundamental freedoms could only be curbed in the most extreme of cases.

The First Amendment countered this by amending Article 19 to add the word “reasonable” before restrictions and to add “public order” as being one more ground for abridging fundamental rights.

The evolution of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) has to be seen in the background of this gradual but steady constriction of Article 19 which guarantees the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association, etc.

The UAPA, 1967

The next major step in the abridgement of freedom of expression, assembly and association occurred in the shape of the 16th Amendment in 1963. Further “reasonable restrictions in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India” were amended to Article 19 (2).

This amendment occurred in the immediate wake of the Indian Army’s defeat in the Sino-Indian War, as well as the threat posed by DMK’s contesting elections in Tamil Nadu with secession from India being part of their manifesto.

It was in this background that UAPA was enacted on December 30, 1967 – to satisfy the need of the Indian State to declare associations that sought secession from India as “unlawful”. In this way, UAPA 1967 gave powers to the central government to impose all-India bans on associations.

The process of banning associations could simply be done by the government announcing them as “unlawful” and hence banned (Section 3). Though the original 1967 Act too had provisions for a tribunal to review or to hear an appeal against the ban, this remained a mere farce as seen in the case of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

2004 Amendment

In 2004, amid public outcry against the misuse of POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act), the government repealed the Act but majorly amended the 1967 version of UAPA at the same time. The repeal of POTA was an election promise of the then newly elected Congress government.

The amended UAPA made substantial changes to the definition of “unlawful activity”, included the definition of “terrorist act”, “terrorist organisation” from the repealed POTA, and also introduced the concept of a “terrorist gang”. In fact Chapters IV, V and VI dealing with “punishment for terrorist activities”, “forfeiture of proceeds of terrorism” and “terrorist organisations” respectively, were heavily borrowed from the repealed POTA. The Schedule to the POTA Act of “terrorist organisations” too was incorporated into UAPA verbatim. A sunset clause that was earlier part of so-called anti-terror acts like TADA and POTA was done away with.

Even if one were to buy the “desperate times call for desperate measures” logic, where a restriction to fundamental rights is reasonable given the extraordinary situation of a threat of terrorism, one cannot justify the absence of a sunset clause in the UAPA.

In fact, the justification to the inclusion of a sunset clause in previous extra ordinary acts like TADA is that when there is a drop in the perceived threat, there would be no need of the legislation.

2008 and 2012 Amendments

On December 17, 2008, another amendment of the UAPA was moved and adopted following the attack by armed gunmen in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. More provisions similar to POTA and TADA regarding maximum period in police custody, incarceration without charge-sheet and restrictions on bail were incorporated into the UAPA.

The 2012 amendments to the Act further expanded the already vague definition of “terrorist act” to include offences that threaten the country’s economic security.

What is a crime and who is a criminal?

Like earlier anti-terror laws such as TADA and POTA, UAPA too, criminalises ideology and association. By virtue of declaring an organisation “unlawful” or/and “terrorist” and banning them, these Acts have de facto criminalised their ideologies.

Hence, mere possession of any literature of such an organisation or even upholding an ideology common to that organisation in the absence of any violent act is construed as an offence. On the other hand, mere membership or association with such an organisation too becomes an offence.

It is by this logic, that very often, organisations advocating the rights of a certain minority community or that of oppressed sections are easily labelled as fronts of a proscribed organisation under the Schedule of the Act. Their activists or members get arrested and remain in prison for years, denied bail.

Repeal of UAPA

If UAPA 1967 made anti-secession law a permanent requirement, UAPA 2004 made anti-terror law permanent. After it effectively substituted POTA in 2004, the UAPA has been used by all law enforcement agencies throughout the country as the foremost anti-terror law. The repeal of POTA was indeed an eye-wash.

(Many states have their own anti-terror laws, such as Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 (MCOCA), Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 (CSPSA), Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978; Andhra Pradesh Public Security Act, 1992, etc. These local laws are sometimes as draconian if not more, and are used by state prosecution agencies in addition to UAPA.)

In the absence of any sunset clause or provisions for mandatory periodic review, the repeal of UAPA will depend on a mass movement. However, merely mentioning its misuse or low conviction rate may eventually lead to another eyewash, as in 2004.

A movement against UAPA should hence clearly stand for its repeal and that of all other state anti-terror laws with similar provisions.

Draconian provisions of UAPA in a nutshell

– The Act introduces a vague definition of terrorism to encompass a wide range of non-violent political activity including political protest.

– The Act empowers the government to declare an organisation as “terrorist” and ban it. Mere membership of such a proscribed organisation itself becomes a criminal offence.

– The Act allows detention without filing of a charge-sheet for up to 180 days, police custody can be up to 30 days.

– The Act creates a strong presumption against bail and anticipatory bail is out of the question. It creates a presumption of guilt for terrorism offences merely based on the evidence allegedly seized.

– The Act authorises the creation of special courts, with wide discretion to hold in-camera proceedings (closed-door hearings) and uses secret witnesses.

– The Act contains no sunset clause and provisions for mandatory periodic review.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/terrorism-uapa-indian-constitution/story/1/16081.html

Why repression of adivasis in Chhattisgarh doesn’t worry the media


However, amidst diminishing democratic space the struggles of the state’s tribal activists offer hope.

The Press Club of India should probably be one among the sacred-soil sites of Indian democracy. It ought to be a place from where the Fourth Estate sallies forth to test and stretch the spaces for free speech and democracy. Regrettably, these days that’s rarely the case. Nevertheless, on August 18, 2015 this was the venue selected for a press conference where three representatives of the tribals of Bastar in Chhattisgarh – Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and Kawasi Hidme – came to tell of how democracy functions in their land.

Sori and Kodopi have done this before. In 2010 and 2011 they had exposed before the press the atrocities committed on the common people by the police in Bastar. They were then wrongly implicated and pursued by the Chhattisgarh police on patently fabricated grounds, arrested in 2011, faced severe torture and were only released on bail by the Supreme Court after they spent over two years in jail.

After release and return to Bastar, they have insisted on continuing to stand up against the innumerable cases of illegal detention, false implication, custodial torture, fake encounters and disappearances that have come to be a part of daily life in that area. Sori, in particular, has been in the forefront of numerous protests where thousands of adivasis have gathered in rallies and demonstrations at police stations and before district headquarters of the police and civil administration.

maoism-embed_082315071305.jpg

The latest was her exposure of a fake encounter killing of an unarmed villager, Hemla Podiya, in Nahadi village of Dantewada district on July 29, 2015. This killing done by Special Police officers, who have been outlawed by the Supreme Court, was protested by the villagers, who assembled under the leadership of Sori. The Bastar inspector general of police, SRP Kalluri, retaliated by calling for her, and Kodopi to be excommunicated from the area and by instigating local traders to demonstrate outside Sori’s house.

The attempt to “excommunicate” Sori and Kodopi is not something new. It is only the latest in a long line of such attempts and it is definitely not going to be the last. Binayak Sen was targeted in 2007 for his aid to Maoist political prisoners like Narayan Sanyal, as also for his exposure since 2005 of the first armed Salwa Judum campaign launched and equipped by the Chhattisgarh government. Gandhian Himanshu Kumar is another example of an activist and dissenter who has been hounded out of Chhattisgarh, who has had around a hundred cases registered against him and whose centre, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, was bulldozed and destroyed.

There have even been attempts to keep out those attempting to approach the judiciary for relief. In September 2013, activist and journalist Prashant Rahi was picked up from Chhattisgarh’s capital, Raipur, where he had gone to consult and coordinate with lawyers who were defending political prisoners. He was whisked off to Maharashtra, tortured and shown to be arrested there and remained in prison for one year. The lawyers of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group providing much needed legal help to the local tribals have also faced thinly-veiled threats of implication in cases of abetting Maoists.

maoism-embed-1_082315071322.jpg

The abiding reason for this insistence on the eviction of all democratic dissent is the state’s gameplan to use maximum force to crush the challenge of the revolutionary movement of the tribals led by the Maoists. Such militaristic solutions require not only the deployment of lakhs of armed personnel, but also the management of “facts” and therefore the evacuation of all civil society support that could potentially carry the truth to the outside world.

The immediate reason for the repression is, however, the land hunger of the corporate class. The country’s biggest corporations and some foreign biggies have all lined up investments to exploit the minerals below the forests of central and eastern India. They are in a mighty hurry to realise their gains and will brook no delay in seizing the land. Both the Centre and state governments alike are therefore scrambling to pander to this hunger. Ten months ago, the Centre spelt out its “Clear, Hold, Build” doctrine that promised “to use any element of its national power” to wipe out resistance. The state government, after the utter failure of its first Salwa Judum campaign, is now getting ready to sponsor a new round of civil war – Salwa Judum 2.0. These cannot smoothly move ahead without the systematic and complete closure of all democratic space.

Such unholy stratagems call for comprehensive exposure, but it would be far-fetched to fancy that today’s mass media organs have it in them to do it. Creeping control of the media by big corporations, with its complement of self-censoring editors, ensures that material inconsistent with corporate interests can rarely slip on to the front pages. Corporate-controlled media is unlikely to report on the effects of corporate land grabbing. This was also probably why, despite a packed house of journalists at the press conference mentioned earlier, there was hardly any reportage the following day.

maoism-embed-2_082315071341.jpg

During these days of rising undemocratic tendencies and shrinking democratic spaces, the decay of democracy’s fourth pillar is a cause for concern. There are, however, voices that make the horizons less bleak. One such voice is that of the frail-looking Kawasi Hidme, who was arrested at 15, tortured, gang-raped, falsely implicated and thrown into prison for seven years before she was acquitted and released in March this year. As she, with rare daring and dignity, related the horrors she had gone through, her mentor, Sori, had this to say: “I need to give her strength again, I want her to fight. Perhaps we can do something for all women who come out of jail but are still unhappy, to help them get their lives back.” She added: “Who knows, perhaps Hidme can become the strongest fighter of us all.”

Voices such as these, with their staunchness and stubbornness in the face of mighty odds can bring the greatest hope. Sori and Kawasi are after all only representative of thousands of other courageous people in their area who are standing up and refusing to give in. Long considered the wretched of the earth, it seems to be their struggle that is redemarcating and redefining what democratic spaces and democracy can mean. Their struggle to attain and sustain liberty, land and livelihood in the remotest forests of the country may be primarily their struggle to survive, but it has the potential to show the way for democracy in our country to thrive.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/maoism-bastar-chhattisgarh-soni-sori-salwa-judum-binayak-sen-naxalism-lingaram-kodopi-kawasi-hidme/story/1/5834.html

When even the Supreme Court’s voice drowns behind prison walls


Infringements of the rights of detenus are the norm rather than the exception in the country’s jails.

VVIP convicts and prisoners like Jayalalithaa, Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt often receive special treatment leading to an outcry that prisoners are being treated with kid gloves by the criminal justice system. But, for every “special” jail inmate, there are thousands of prisoners in the country’s jails whose basic rights are constantly trampled upon.

Over forty years ago, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court made it absolutely clear that “convicts are not, by mere reason of the conviction, denuded of all the fundamental rights which they otherwise possess”. In 1981, the court repeated, “The prisoner or detenu has all the fundamental rights and other legal rights available to a free person, save those which are incapable of enjoyment by reason of incarceration.”

However, despite the rulings of various constitutional courts down the years, jail administrations and police throughout the country continue to follow procedures that operate on the basis that prisoners deserve no human rights – perhaps assuming that detenus are “less human” or “non human” beings. Infringements of everyday rights are the norm rather than the exception. Here, we depict some of the most common breaches of rights in detention:

torture_052215083841.jpg

Routine Torture

Torture in police custody as well as in jail custody is practiced on a daily basis throughout the country, even leading to custodial death. The Supreme Court in 1996 declared, “The increasing incidence of torture and death in custody has assumed such alarming proportions that it is affecting the creditibility of the Rule of Law and administration of criminal justice system”. It instituted guidelines to prevent torture, but the practice continues.

handcuff_052215083911.jpg

Habitual Handcuffing

It was way back in 1980 that the Supreme Court laid down, “Handcuffing is prima facie inhuman and, therefore, unreasonable, is over harsh and at the first flush, arbitrary. Absent fair procedure and objective monitoring, to inflict ‘irons’ is to resort to zoological strategies repugnant to Article 21.”

In 1996, the apex court again reiterated, “We declare, direct and lay down as a rule that handcuffs or other fetters shall not be forced on a prisoner – convicted or undertrial – while lodged in a jail anywhere in the country or while being transported or in transit from one jail to another or from jail to court and back.” However, despite the law being stated so unequivocally, the sight of chained, roped and handcuffed prisoners is common in almost all the states.

absentia_052215083931.jpg

Trial in Absentia

Section 273 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides that “all evidence taken in the course of the trial or other proceedings shall be taken in the presence of the accused”. However in many areas, the police plead a lack of personnel and do not provide escort guards to take the undertrial prisoner to court.

To avoid repeated adjournments, the advocate representing the prisoner is compelled to apply for “exemption” from appearance of the accused and the trial takes place without the accused knowing anything of what has transpired in court. This most basic legal right to be present during one’s own trial is thus denied.

mulakat_052215083944.jpg

Irrational Restrictions on Mulaakats

One of the few interactions that a prisoner has with the outside world is the “mulaakat”, when relatives and friends are allowed to visit the inmate in jail. The Supreme Court has held, “Considered from the point of view also of the right to personal liberty enshrined in Article 21, the right to have interviews with members of the family and friends is clearly part of personal liberty guaranteed under that Article.”

It thus ordered that jail administrations be liberal in allowing visits of family and friends. This is, however, rarely implemented. Poor and indigent families from remote and backward areas are particularly affected. They are often denied meetings on some technical ground even after travelling long distances and undergoing great expenses.

solitary_052215083958.jpg

Prolonged Solitary Confinement

Section 73 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) specifies, “… the court may, by its sentence, order that the offender shall be kept in solitary confinement for any portion or portions of the imprisonment to which he is sentenced, not exceeding three months in the whole, … ” Section 74 further rules, “In executing a sentence of solitary confinement, such confinement shall in no case exceed fourteen days at a time, …” Jail manuals of all states have similar restrictions on solitary confinement and separate confinement. However, the use of prolonged solitary and separate confinement, sometimes for years on end, continues unchecked in all jails.

reading-ban_052215084013.jpg

Ban on Reading and Writing

Jail administrations arbitrarily decide what the inmates should and should not read. Some prison bosses, owing to a fear of petitions and complaints against them, even impose a complete ban on writing materials. Such bans go against the writ of the Bombay High Court, which ruled that a detenu could receive any periodical or book which can be lawfully obtained and read by the general public, and of a full bench of the Kerala High Court that held that a prisoner was entitled to receive “Maoist literature”.

As regards writing material, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, way back in 1965, held that it was lawful for a prisoner to write and even publish a book from jail. However, such judgements remain on paper while the unwritten bans are rigidly applied in all jails. For many centuries the Manusmriti kept the Shudras away from the Vedas by prescribing that “the ears of him who hears the Veda are to be filled with (molten) lead and lac”. Today’s prison superintendents forcibly keep many books away from the inmates under the pain of prison punishments.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/supreme-court-jayalalithaa-salman-khan-sanjay-dutt-rule-of-law-ipc-crpc/story/1/3884.html

Why CCTVs in India won’t put an end to torture, abuse and crime


Banner 01Technology may provide some assistance, but it is only the pressure of civil society that can bring about real change.

Last month, when Union HRD minister Smriti Irani strode out in anger from the Goa Fabindia outlet that had CCTV cams peeping at the trial room she used, reactions ranged from Twitter snigger to outright outrage. Complaint was made, crime was registered, arrests were effected – all serving to draw needed attention to the voyeuristic potential and other insidious implications of a little piece of technology that has been creeping continuously into more and more areas of everyone’s lives. Aside from stores and malls, the closed circuit camera has been steadily stealing into more and more areas of day to day existence, offering itself as a panacea for a host of ills varying from shoplifting to rape. The AAP has even promised, as part of its manifesto for Delhi, to set up ten to 15 lakh cameras throughout the city in order to enhance “women’s security”. The march to a surveillance society seems inexorable and all this is happening without the least debate on whether it infringes on the right to privacy, which has been recognised as part of the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Thus, at the same time as Smriti Irani was being violated by the peeping toms of Fabindia, the women prisoners of Byculla prison in Mumbai were forced to fight back the attempt by the jail administration to install cameras in all the living areas of the women’s barracks and cells. The cameras, which were supposedly a response to the escape by five male prisoners in Nagpur, were to be put up in the areas where the women change clothes and where, with little or no fans during summer, the women are compelled to remain in minimum clothes when confined within the stone walls of the barracks, especially during the nights. Naturally not wanting to offer them up as spectacles for those who use the offices where the screens were to be set up, the women refused to allow the cameras to be set up. The authorities however remained adamant despite the inmates pointing out that they could not be made into objects of lewd interest of the prison staff. The administration only retreated after a protest hunger strike by a political prisoner, Angela Sontakke.

vernon-story-1_050815012918.gif

The whole incident only served to display the lack of any controls or regulation on the use of CCTV in all areas. In a case of hidden cameras put up in jail cells in Washington, USA, the city was sued for damages. The jail staff would watch, like some porn video, the women detenues changing and then make sexualised comments to them regarding their bodies and habits. In some Indian prisons e.g. in Gujarat, CCTV has been introduced inside barracks and such behavior by prison staff is common, but no steps have been taken to remove the cameras from living areas.

The main arguments given for introducing cameras in prisons are control on contraband, prevention of violent attacks and torture and deterrence to escape. But, since in most cases the prison staff themselves have been known to be involved in the offences, it is hardly likely that a CCTV mechanism managed by them would be effective in preventing crime. During the period when CCTV was introduced in 2008 in Arthur Road Central Prison in Mumbai the staff who normally supplied drugs would ensure that their transactions took place in the blind spots where the cameras did not reach.

Torture and corporal punishment of inmates, though forbidden by law, is a daily fact of life in prison life. Since it is perpetrated by the authorities themselves, a CCTV system offers no solution at all for this crime. An enquiry conducted under the supervision of the Bombay High Court in 2008 concluded that the authorities of Arthur Road Prison in Mumbai had used excessive force against some Muslim political prisoners resulting in several cases of grievous hurt and broken bones. Though this attack on the prisoners was conducted in full view of the CCTV cameras then in operation, the prison administration refused to hand over the record and claimed that the cameras had malfunctioned at the time of the attack. Similarly the escape of prisoners in Nagpur in 2015 was disclosed to have been done in collaboration with the jail staff itself. CCTV which is now being installed there will be manned by the same staff. The security that the system is supposed to ensure is thus a mere illusion.

vernon-story-2_050815012953.gif

Have your say. You can comment here.Similar is the project to install CCTVs in all police stations as a means to prevent torture and custodial deaths. The Bombay High Court and Madras High Court have recently issued such directives. However a police force used to torture does not need to use the lock-up of a police station for torture. When Arun Ferreira, one of the authors of this piece, was tortured in 2007, it was done in a room in the Police Gymkhana. Even if a CCTV system were to be in place it would not have recorded the crime. Technology may provide some assistance, but it is only the pressure of civil society that can bring about real change.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/cctv-solution-crime-indian-prisons-smriti-irani-fabindia-jail-torture-atrocity-human-rights/story/1/3606.html

Allahabad lawyer killing shows how khaki is above the law


All-India advocates’ strike fails to have any impact on rising police impunity.

 

The story of the near-total strike on March 16, 2015 by 1.3 million advocates throughout the country began on March 11 on the steps of the entrance to the Allahabad District Court building. The shaky mobile-shot video available on YouTube shows a sequence of events which started with an argument between a uniformed sub-inspector, Shailendra Singh, and an advocate, Nabi Ahmed. The cop decides to settle the argument by other means and reaches for the gun in his holster. There is a scramble as other lawyers try to intervene. The police officer however fires from his weapon, felling the advocate. As shocked lawyers and standers-on run helter-skelter, the cop brandishes his gun, pointing it all around. As howls of protest rise he runs for the gate.

The advocate died even before reaching the hospital. Lawyers immediately started protests both at the District Court and at the Allahabad High Court, the largest high court in India, but had to bear the brunt of police lathi charges even within the court premises. They also marched to the office of the SSP (Senior Superintendent of Police), where the killer cop had reportedly taken shelter. As the protests there turned violent there was police firing. The lawyers struck work and boycotted the courts, first in Allahabad and Lucknow and from the next day, throughout Uttar Pradesh. A one-day All-India lawyers strike was called on Monday by the Bar Council of India. The lawyers of UP continued their strike, demanding action on the SSP, among other things. On the seventh day however, the Allahabad High Court Bar Association withdrew the strike without this demand being met. A mahapanchayat of all the District Bar representatives of the state has also decided to bring the boycott to a close on March 23rd.

arun-story_032315035109.gif

The incident and its aftermath raises questions germane to the function of the system of justice in our country.

First, is the extent to which the police have become a law unto themselves. The sub-inspector not only used his service revolver to settle his dispute, but, after the incident, even visited his own police station and another police station, without any attempt being made to arrest him. The dispute itself arose from a criminal complaint filed by Nabi Ahmed, which was to have been investigated by Singh. The advocate’s grouse was that Singh has taken a bribe from the accused and had filed a closure report in the matter, without doing any investigation. That he dared to accost and question the officer about it cost him his life. A press report, which gives some indication of the police mindset, quotes the officer after the incident as saying there was nothing greater than sanmaan – thus implying that it was his “respect” that was at stake and hence the firing.

But it was not only the sub-inspector’s mindset. During the lawyers’ agitation the higher level officers too went out of their way to present a story indicating that the firing could be an act of self-defence. In a way they were merely mirroring the numerous fake stories of “encounters” in “self-defence”, used by police all over the country. To a society which has grown to accept hundreds of such stories without question, the story of an unarmed lawyer in a court building being a threat to the life of an armed sub-inspector does not seem too absurd.

The killer cop was no criminal in the eyes of the police. Though he continued to remain with the city limits he was not arrested until the rising tide of lawyers’ anger forced the authorities to show his arrest after 48 hours. Some police officers even started sending out messages on WhatsApp calling for contributions in Shailendra Singh’s support from all officers-in-charge of police stations in UP. The collection was reported to have touched twenty lakhs on the second day itself. Such measures quite possibly had the support of police higher-ups.

It is such brazen operations of a police force that call to question any claim that rule of law has sanctity in most parts of the country. Both of us (Arun and Vernon) have spent time in police custody and, having experienced torture and threats of being finished off in an ‘encounter’, are quite aware of the extent of the lawlessness of those assigned to uphold the law. We have seen officers react angrily when questioned in court on such illegal acts, implying that it was a question of their “honour”. But in advocate Nabi Ahmed’s case, the contradictions are all the more stark. Here is a case concerning the courts and the bar, which could at least have been expected to be immune to the acts of a lawless force. It is a case where the local lawyers fought resolutely to protect themselves and their rights. They were joined by all the lawyers of India’s largest state and then by all the lawyers of the country. However, even such a large and organized body could not achieve their demand of action on the district police chief, who sheltered the killer officer. It is perhaps indicative of the degree to which the police have been given a free hand that the government is unwilling to act on members of a coercive arm of the state.

Another less important, but nevertheless worrying aspect of this whole episode is the way such a massive All-India strike action by lakhs of lawyers has simply gone by without much of a ripple in society. Outside Allahabad, reports and commentary in the mainstream media have been minimal. Parliament too, despite being in session, and despite having many legal leading lights among its members, did not notice the strike. An event having a direct impact on crores of litigants has passed off relatively unnoticed. Another telling comment on our level of acceptance of the “tareek pe tareek” court-delay syndrome that ails the whole justice system.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/allahabad-lawyer-killing-nabi-ahmed-shailendra-singh-lathi-charge-high-court/story/1/2710.html

Kerala cops’ campaign to criminalise dissent


Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is being used to harass and arrest activists and snuff out criticism and opposition to government policies.

panel-1_020915042146.jpg

Malayali social media is known to be substantially alive to people’s issues. Within that, the Facebook page of Kerala social activist and blogger, Jaison C Cooper is a particularly lively space. Here, support for the long-standing adivasi “Standing Struggle” protest and anger at indiscriminate environmental degradation rub shoulders with opinion and debate on Kiss of Love and Obama’s visit – all actively shared, liked and vigorously commented upon. From 29th January, 2015 however, an eerie stillness rules – that was the day Jaison was picked up from his office at the State Insurance Department in Kochi and placed under arrest.

The very next day, Adv Thushar Sarathy, secretary of the People’s Human Rights Forum and of the Kerala Chapter of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), was picked up at Kozhikode from the site of a press conference. Both Cooper and Sarathy were charged with the crime of ‘unlawful activity’ u/s 13(b) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act [UAPA]. Their crime was “spreading Maoist thought“. The evidence against them was nothing more than the “pro-Maoist” literature allegedly seized from their homes.

panel-2_020915042222.jpg

The two arrests were part of a much larger crackdown spread out over many of the districts of North Kerala. The Kochi city special branch even conducted a combing operation of the men’s hostel of Maharaja College in search of Maoist sympathisers, but only ended up booking two students for possession of ganja. On the evening of 1st February, Students Islamic Organisation leader Shahid M Shameem and Uday Balakrishnan of Youth Dialogue were picked up off a street in Kannur merely because their appearance aroused suspicions in the police that they were Maoists. They were released the next afternoon after intense online and offline protest. Similarly activists in Ernakulam and Wayanad districts, whose houses were raided at night, could prevent their books being taken off by demanding that the police give a seizure receipt – a statutory requirement which they did not want to comply with. On 22nd-23rd December, the midnight knock came for the Thrissur office of a monthly magazine, Keraleeyam, noted for highlighting tribal issues. Computers and materials were seized and three staffers sleeping on the premises were taken in only to be released the next day after extensive protests.

panel-3_020915042325.jpg

Not everyone has however managed to get let off. The last week of December 2014 had seen the arrest in Palakkad district of Sreekanth Prabhakaran, a B.Ed student, and Arun Balan, a journalism student. Raids on their homes in Kasargode, Kerala’s northernmost district, had allegedly yielded pro-Maoist and other Left literature and this was considered sufficient evidence to hold them under UAPA. They continue to remain in jail due to the stringent anti-bail provisions.

UAPA provisions criminalise thought!

Thus the Kerala police are adopting the classical model of security agencies throughout the country of using UAPA and other anti-terror laws to stifle protest and stamp out resistance to the establishment viewpoint. The bare provisions of the UAPA law do not require that any physical act of violence or intimidation be committed to constitute a terror crime. The enunciation of various penal and procedural provisions related to “unlawful association”, ‘unlawful activity”, “terrorism”, “terrorist organization”, are so all-encompassing as to make it easy to ban an organization and to criminalise anything indicative of even sympathy or support for an ideology or organization, or espousal of causes similar to those taken up by an ‘unlawful’ association.

Recently there has been a perceptible groundswell of genuine opposition from large sections of civil society in Kerala on a number of issues, particularly the exploitation of tribals and their displacement from traditional homelands in Kerala’s northern forests and the large-scale grabbing of scarce natural resources and poisoning of the environment by foreign and big Indian corporates. A number of peoples’ organizations have been successful in mobilizing in large numbers against government policies in this regard. Simultaneously, the CPI(Maoist), which is proscribed under UAPA, has also been championing similar demands and taking stands against the government and corporates. This commonality or even mere similarity of objectives has been treated by the police as sufficient ‘proof’ to target activists for ‘terrorist’ or ‘unlawful’ activity. This perverse logic extends to even the simple possession of literature that propagates issues that the CPI(Maoist) has talked about.

panel-4_020915042515.jpg

Thus the list of subversive literature submitted in court as evidence of Adv Sarathy’s culpability under UAPA includes an article collection entitled “Vinasa Vikasanam” (destructive development). This collection, published in 2012 and prefaced by eminent economist Dr MA Oommen, comprises essays critical of the Emerging Kerala Summit held by the State Government promoting Kerala as an investment destination for private capital. Police reasoning here is apparent – if you propagate against, or even possess material that propagates against government development policy and big corporates, you are guilty of ‘unlawful activity’ or probably even “terrorism”. Sarathy’s investigating officer would probably make the absurd contention that since the CPI(Maoist) too, in statements and interviews, has talked on ‘destructive development’, Adv Sarathy’s possession of a booklet of the same name shows a link and warrants his arrest.

Of course most courts do not buy such arguments. The Supreme Court itself has ruled that the penal provisions of the UAPA and similar laws would only be applicable if the accused actually committed violence or incited to imminent violence. Thus most trials end in acquittal, but that is only after several years spent in custody due to denial of bail under the harsh UAPA provisions. Accused in similar cases, Hem Mishra, a cultural activist and student of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, arrested in August 2013 and Dr. G N Saibaba, a professor of Delhi University, arrested in May 2014, continue, to this day, to stoically soldier on in the Anda Barrack of Nagpur Central Prison due to the power of the bail denial provisions of UAPA. They too were prominent activists in the forefront of opposition to state policies. Their continued incarceration is a standing testament of the power of such law to criminalise and penalize dissent.

panel-5_020915042618.jpg

Resistance to Repression

And it is this law that the Kerala police pins its hopes on, to push resistance into retreat. The current phase of their arrests, combing, raids, seizures, interrogations, commenced in April 2014 with the release of a so-called look-out notice listing many of the most prominent names active on civil liberties and people’s rights. This and the later raids were intimidatory acts designed to frighten off at least some of those named and targeted, and to isolate the rest, who could then be put behind bars.

This may have had some impact and created some sense of aloneness among those standing, a feeling probably intended to be expressed in Jaison Cooper’s last post on his Facebook page – “I am a lone monk walking the world with a leaky umbrella”. It is Mao Zedong’s concluding comment at the end of a conversation with American journalist, Edgar Snow in December 1970.

Whatever be the import of Cooper’s post, he nevertheless would have no reason to feel alone in the response that has arisen to his and Sarathy’s arrest. There has been a surge of support throughout the country and even internationally. Within a short time Kerala has seen many protests to the arrests. Among others, Amnesty International has also called for the release of the four in prison in Kerala. A number of noted intellectuals and activists, including Arundhati Roy, have also petitioned the chief minister for releasing Cooper and Sarathy.

Have your say. You can comment here.They have unequivocally declared, “We, the undersigned, believe that this police action is a well concerted political act to silence all voices raising critical questions about the political, economical and social issues in the country.” It remains to be seen whether the silencing will succeed, or whether the reaction to the police action will build up into a movement that will bring into focus an alternative voice and view on crucial questions that concern us all.

On Academic Freedom- by Sushmita Verma


2015-01-08 15.24.45Recent times have seen an attack on educational institutions like no other . This attack is not necessarily physical, rather an attack on the free space of the university. A recent incident at a very reputed higher education institution in Mumbai provoked me to think a few things.
I work at Majlis, which is a women’s rights organisation. It encourages its employees to have a knowledge of different social issues so as to have a rounded approach towards the society in general and women in particular. So when I received the invite for a talk on Kashmir from a reputed educational institution ( same as mentioned earlier ), I could not not resist the temptation to attend it and my programme co-ordinator at Majlis was very supportive of this .
As the audience which mostly comprised of students of MA, MPhil, PhD, some faculty members, visitors from Kashmir, a few journalists and writers, immersed themselves in the flow of the talk which was preceded by a subtle yet moving song of resistance from a group from North east, very interesting points were presented by the speaker on Kashmir . The content of the talk is not the concern here. But what happened during the question answer session was rather uncalled for . The head of the institution suddenly appeared and bombarded a set of questions on the person who was chairing the talk . The questions were related to permissions for the talk but sounded more like a threat to the extent, ” how dare students deliberate about this contentious issue of Kashmir  ” . As the head of the institution left infuriated , the shock and dismay of the audience was beyond comprehension , about what just happened !
This incident is not an aberration in the desired free thinking space of the university .Rather it is only another instance of how educational institutions have been attacked extremely directly and systematically by fascist and right wing forces . The institution referred above has been known in the past for giving space to many kinds of alternative voices. But today that space is shrinking . We are hearing everyday about various kinds of curbing of freedom of students in the form of direct policing, moral policing, emotional threatening in the forms of cutting down stipends, expulsion etc. Jadavpur University, Himachal Pradesh University, IIT Powai, TISS, IIPS, Delhi University, North Bengal University are only some of the big names in a long list of universities that are trying systematically to curb down students’ voices in the present times .
University is a space where students do not just enroll to pursue a degree, it is also the space where they are trying to make sense of the world . It is important that there is space for all kinds of perspective in the university and the platform to discuss those. Only then can the real purpose of the University space be fulfilled . However, in the present situations, universities are being run like empires through the stronghold of individuals or small groups of individuals. Democratic processes have been diminishing day by day and a Right wing inclination as well as the desire to maintain the status quo can be clearly seen. The strategic suppressing of left leaning voices means more space for the right and hence more space for all the evils that are confronting us today, starting from communal disharmony to patriarchal oppression to caste differentiation and more . It has become very important to resist this kind of suppression by means of more democratic dialogues both within campus and a networking with other campuses..Let not the University become a space to organize ignorance !